Many of us in the longevity industry will remember 2021 not only as the year of the pandemic, working from home, and lockdowns but also as the year of the two massive scandals around the two prominent figures in the longevity field, Dr. David Sabatini and Dr. Aubrey de Grey. Both of these scientists were fired from their respective institutions due to misconduct accusations. Their stories served as powerful lessons for everyone in the field, resulting in new company policies, educational initiatives, and reassessments of individual behavior. Most labs limited the use of alcohol and increased oversight during social activities.
But unlike the other famous “me too” stories surrounding actors, producers, financiers, and other characters whose work we can easily live without, Sabatini and de Grey were working on something we can not live without – aging. Their work focuses on the debilitating biological process that will inevitably diminish and destroy our lives, and it is important to ensure that their work continues.
The main highlight of Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s career in biogerontology was the proposal and development of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) framework for combating aging by preventing or reversing age-related damage in the body. In summary, this model divides aging into seven categories of damage, including cell loss, mutations, and senescence. To achieve negligible senescence, SENS proposes a range of strategies, such as removing senescent cells, repairing damaged mitochondria and DNA, reversing extracellular matrix stiffening, reprogramming the immune system, extending telomeres, and transferring genes or proteins from long-lived species. By addressing the different types of age-related damage, SENS proposes a comprehensive approach to treating aging and achieving a state of negligible senescence.
To advance the research along the seven strands of the SENS model, in 2009, De Grey set up a non-profit foundation called the SENS Research Foundation (SRF). An heir to a sizable estate in the UK, de Grey decided to spend most of his inherited wealth on aging research, which included both SRF in America and a similar foundation in the UK, SENS Foundation Europe.
Biotechnology research is very expensive, it takes, on average, over $2 billion and a decade to discover and develop a new drug. De Grey’s family money kept SRF in operation, but continual fundraising was desperately needed to continue to make scientific progress. Cryptocurrency and its strong community eventually joined in the fight against aging. SRF was an early adopter of cryptocurrency, and received sizeable donations in late 2017/ early 2018 during the first crypto boom. Then in mid 2021, SRF received over $20 million in cryptocurrency to support their mission of a damage repair approach to aging. However, right after this fundraising campaign, the situation got complicated. After a blog post citing inappropriate behavior, De Grey’s employment at SRF was terminated despite his efforts to tell his side of the story.
Can De Grey’s Ideas Work Without De Grey?
De Grey is a very powerful voice in the industry, with the massive public following second only to the prominent Harvard biogerontologist Dr. David Sinclair. SRF had to rebuild and move forward without its founder, CSO, and primary fundraiser. In March 2023, I got to present at the leading medtech conference NextMed in San Diego organized by the prominent figure in medical technology, Dr. Daniel Kraft and was invited to attend the workshop organized by SRF and led by SRF senior staff: Maria Entraigues Abramson, Director of Development, Lisa Fabiny-Kiser, the new CEO, Ravi Jain, PhD, Vice President of Research, accompanied by the head of creative, Gary Abramson.
Considering the number of people in the room, it was probably one of the most attended workshops at the event. The SRF team explained the science, growth plans, and projects for SRF moving forward and had an interactive game about snake oil in aging to encourage the audience to use a keen eye when assessing purported breakthroughs in aging. To my surprise, I learned that the new, mostly female-led team is going full-steam ahead with the many research projects internally and externally and executing the original vision by de Grey.
Under the leadership of Lisa Fabiny-Kiser, CEO, SRF has been working diligently to maintain its presence in the industry and advance the field of rejuvenation biotechnologies, with their focus clearly on the SENS damage repair approach. The workshop at NextMed showcased the organization’s growth plans and ongoing research projects, highlighting their dedication to executing the original vision laid out by de Grey. With the strong support of a new management team and an expanded outreach department, SRF has been successful in adapting and evolving despite the loss of their prominent founder.
The female-led team’s commitment to the organization’s mission was evident during the workshop. Maria Entragues Abramson, Director of Development, led the audience through an interactive game about snake oil in aging, demonstrating the foundation’s commitment to promoting scientific integrity and transparency. The workshop also provided insight into the numerous internal and external research projects led by a talented team of senior investigators, each contributing their expertise to the different SENS strands, guided by Dr. Ravi Jain as VP of Research.
Dr. Emily Lillian Fishman, Director of Academic Affairs, plays an essential role in supporting the next generation of pioneers in the field of anti-aging. Her work ensures that SRF continues to attract top talent and maintain strong academic partnerships, paving the way for future breakthroughs in rejuvenation biotechnologies. Furthermore, Kelly Boemmel, Director of Operations, ensures smooth management and a strong organizational structure to support the foundation’s ambitious research goals.
SRF’s ability to forge ahead, even after De Grey’s departure, is a testament to the resilience and determination of its new, predominantly female-led team. Their unwavering commitment to the original vision and dedication to advancing rejuvenation biotechnologies sends a strong message to the industry and the public, demonstrating that SRF, and its mission, is a team effort.
SRF’s continued success showcases the organization’s adaptability and strength under new leadership. With their focus on research, collaboration, and education, SRF is well-positioned to make significant contributions to the field of rejuvenation biotechnologies and further its mission to mitigate and prevent damage caused by aging.
While he is out of the SENS Foundation, which continues to execute on his vision, Aubrey de Grey continues his research at the Longevity Escape Velocity Foundation (LEVF). At LEVF, he engaged with a contract research organization (CRO) to conduct rejuvenation experiments in mice and I hope to cover this work in future stories.
Extending healthy productive longevity for everyone on the planet is perhaps the most important and altruistic cause . And while multiple foundations, venture funds, and companies emerged, these efforts are not even comparable to the global spending on military, which exceeded $2.1 Trillion in 2022, luxury goods, or even the size of the tobacco industry. For the first time in human history, advances in technology and biomedicine give us hope that it may be possible to significantly extend productive longevity within the next two-three decades. Focusing the resources and attention on this important subject will help humanity get break the chains of aging and disease.